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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 55-57

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Two Poems

Manju Kanchuli

The Hunger for Justice and the Water of Desperation

After preparing a feast and
satisfying the entire family
like a highly skilled housewife
she's been satisfying herself
as she licks the empty cauldron and pan
or swallows the slightly burnt leavings,
and she falls asleep
hungry and weepy-eyed this rainy night
but not without fulfilling you in your bedroom
She's been spending her days
licking the salty grit on the empty pan
provided by legislation
No justice has come to ask, "Have you eaten?"
It's not just this century-long night
she has slept without food
There were many nights like that
Today too there's a feast
at her house
Tell them: In her name
don't put out a portion
of the festive rice to be cooked
She doesn't need feasts like these
amid great feasts
she already has the habit of
fasting herself to sleep
Fire rages on the riverbank She
has blanketed that terrible
inferno of hunger with a flood of water
She has doused the flame sufficiently
with the unfathomable depths
of a single desperation [End Page 55]

A Strange Temple

The idol behind the shut door of God must be
arrayed with vermilion and rice
That I don't know
Before meeting the deity I've seen
nothing but naked figures on the struts above
I've read so many times
"Behind the locked temple door there's no God at all"
A long time has passed . . . these days
I haven't opened that temple door with flowers of hope
Its inner wall might have transformed into a mirror
blossoming in the mirror the priest's aroused mind
might have bulged outward,
the mirror on the torso turned toward his mind
might have melted with immense shame
That I don't know
Out of shame I haven't till now
parted that mirror's curtain
Encountering yellow sunlight everywhere
the priest's robe of black clouds
might tremble
Tangled in the loincloth of a hurricane
it might be hovering above some gorge somewhere
That I don't know
I haven't forced that cloud to land
in the theater of the earth
I haven't harassed it with bright sunlight
History, upon a wall of mud, has been written with lines
in the vacuum of space, with voices
over the forehead of Earth, with blood
in the ink of the heart, with red
into the pen of the human, with a cry; [End Page 56]
beneath the layered soil of Earth, with bones
into layers of sedimentary rock, with coral
inside black coal, with illuminating diamonds
But I've never understood
the meaning of the blank paper smeared with spider shit
in the piled garbage bin near the temple
An old wall might have been changed into a new mirror
that new mirror crawled upon by a snail
into parchment of fresh slime
That I don't know
I've taken those walls, mirrors, and blank sheets
to be your undershirt
and have never in front of anyone else
parted them till today
I haven't opened the temple door
I haven't disrobed the priest
The image inside the closed door of God
must still be arrayed with vermilion and rice
That I don't know
Before meeting the deity I've seen
nothing but naked figures on the struts above

Translations by Wayne Amtzis and the author


Manju Kanchuli is the author of the short-story collections Some Love, Some Differences and Stories by Kanchuli and the poetry collections My Life My World and Inside and Outside Eyelids. She is the translator, with Wayne Amtzis, of Two Sisters: The Poetry of Benju Sharma and Manju Kanchuli and the recipient of the Laxmi Padak award, the Ratnasri Swarnapadak award, and the Guruvacharya Katha Puraskar. She was born in 1951.

Wayne Amtzis is cotranslator of Two Sisters: The Poetry of Benju Sharma and Manju Kanchuli and From The Lake, Love: The Poetry of Banira Giri. His photos of Kathmandu appear in the collection flatLine...


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